As a member of the ultra-rich, Romney probably wasn’t spared major losses. And it’s possible he suffered a large enough capital loss that, carried forward and coupled with his various offshore tax havens, he wound up paying no U.S. federal taxes at all in 2009. If true, this would be politically deadly for him. Even assuming that his return was thoroughly clean and legal—a safe assumption, it seems to me—the fallout would dwarf the controversy that attended the news that Romney had paid a tax rate of just 14 percent in 2010 and that estimated he’d pay a similar rate in 2011.
The “zero tax in 2009” theory—again, this is sheer speculation—gains further sustenance when you consider it’s the only year for which nobody knows anything about Romney’s taxes. He’s revealed what’s in his 2010 and 2011 returns, and he reportedly submitted 20-some years’ worth of returns to the McCain campaign when he was being vetted for vice president in 2008. Steve Schmidt, McCain’s chief strategist in that campaign, said on MSNBC last night that while he didn’t examine Romney’s returns himself, nothing that McCain’s vetters found in them disqualified Romney from consideration.
That would indicate that 2009 is singularly important and, if there’s anything to this theory, incredibly vexing for Romney because there’s no way he could release additional returns without including that year. And the chaos that would ensue would be bad enough that it’s probably worth enduring significant damage to avoid.